There’s a dress in my closet that sits gathering dust. If you have seen me around campus, I suspect you wouldn’t think it was mine. I am usually in hoodies that hide my face and ill-fitting jeans. Most people assume I’m a man unless I take the effort to correct them. I rarely do.

It’s not that I’m ashamed. I just don’t want to make a fuss. It’s already so exhausting when I’m met by a slew of “sirs” every day. The worst part of it is I don’t even hate being called that! I use all pronouns and identify with both masculinity and femininity. I like nice suits, polos, and henleys. But sometimes, I would like to be acknowledged for my feminine side. I am publicly out to my friends and family. Yet, only two people in my life actually try to acknowledge that: my best friend and a professor. 

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe it’s my fault — after all, I don’t push hard enough, I don’t assert myself, and I don’t wear dresses! Maybe if I did, I would be happier and people would see me for what I am. Maybe people would bother to ask me who I am. But that’s just a maybe. If I wore my dress, maybe they would look at me with disgust. Maybe they would think I’m weird. Maybe they would hurt me.

I once wore a Goodwill women’s sweater to a family function to express my femininity. I still remember what they said. Who knows what would happen if I were to wear a dress? I see things on the news every day. When I hear hateful things on the radio and TV, bills being passed, and tacit indifference,. it makes me scared to wear that dress.  I wonder what would happen if I wore my dress to the mall in my conservative hometown. Would I be able to handle the hate without breaking down? Does breaking down make me weak? These thoughts spiral in my head late at night, and the dress sits beside me gathering dust. 

I remember back to when I bought the dress. It was expensive. I had wanted to start expressing myself publicly after coming out nearly a year before, but I was also scared to do so. I didn’t know what to do. However, one of my friends said she was happy to help me. We drove together over to Eastview Mall and explored stores that I’d never even heard of before. We picked a dress out and I wanted to try it on. In the dressing room, I felt nervous, but when I saw myself in the mirror, I became excited. Maybe it wasn’t the prettiest dress in the world, but it fit me well and I felt good wearing it. The dress flowed and felt comfortable and when I saw myself I had a big goofy smile on my face. I pushed past the curtain of the dressing room and showed my friend., She made some slight adjustments and then told me that I looked good. I didn’t buy much that day, because I didn’t have a lot of money and it was hard to find feminine clothes that fit my frame. But I bought that dress.

When I bought it, I imagined myself wearing it out and doing things that made me happy. Buying it made me remember the things that my friend said, about how she saw me not as a man, but as me. But whenever there was an occasion to wear it , I always found an excuse not to. It was too cold; I might trip; maybe my hair just looked off that day. I would still put it on to see myself in the mirror and I would smile, but the step outside that door was just too hard for me. It still is.

That dress is mine, but I’m afraid of what could happen when I share it with the world. One day I know that I will wear that dress out. I know that it will bring me queer joy. I know it’s just a piece of cloth, but in it lies my hopes. It is something that allows me to express myself in a way my hoodies cannot. Maybe it’s because I never got the chance to go to those stores in the mall growing up and because of who I was expected to be. Maybe it’s because a friend helped me find it when I really needed it. Or maybe I’m just sentimental, but I like that dress. Maybe I’ll wear it out for no other reason than because it makes me happy.

I always thought that clothes were just what you wore to protect yourself from the elements, but that was only because I’d never found a piece of clothing that makes me feel the way this dress does. Our clothing is a way in which we present a part of ourselves to the world and I don’t want to keep hiding that part of myself.

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